Path of Evil is a Sequel to Harvest of Fear... or Maybe Not

Oh. How disappointing. Well, not disappointing, entirely - but I feel kind of silly for building the movie up so significantly in my imagination before seeing it. In my defense, the reason I was confused by the IMDB and DVD box synopses is that Path of Evil isn't really a sequel to Harvest of Fear, so much as it's the sequel to the movie that the filmmakers behind Harvest of Fear wished that they'd made.

Yes, much in the same way that the novel 'The Lost World' was a sequel to the movie version of Jurassic Park, as opposed to the book, Path of Evil is a sequel to a hypothetical version of Harvest of Fear that we, the audience, didn't actually see. Also, confusingly, despite the fact that the plot largely doesn't make sense if you haven't seen the first film, Path of Evil only works for people who haven't previously watched Harvest of Fear. I'll explain why momentarily, but first, allow me to delineate all the ways in which the the events of Harvest of Fear have been altered to become Path of Evil.

1 - Doctor Jim Carpenter and Deputy Jake Barker are No Longer Dead

Despite the fact that both of them were killed off fairly definitively at the end of HoF, they've been resurrected in the sequel. The philandering drunk scumbag Jake has even been upgraded to main character! And Jim has been convicted of all 24 murders! Which brings us to the next problem-

2 - Despite Jim Being Alive Billy's Frame-Job on Doctor Carpenter Totally Worked

Billy's plan to frame Jim was not especially air-tight. It required, among other preposterous things, for Jim to, in the last act, show up at Stacey's house in the middle of the night, for no reason, alone, and then pick up a scary knife that was left lying on a table.

The other elements of his plan included leaving Jim's wallet near a dead body on the other side of town, then announcing aloud that he (Billy) knows about the wallet, even though the Sheriff only just discovered it minutes earlier. Also he left a second bloody knife sitting atop an open file in Jim's secret (common knowledge) file room.

Because that's completely something a serial killer would leave lying around in an unlocked, semi-public area.

Oh, and Billy had a third knife in his bag when he left. How many identical knives did this guy bring?

Harvest of Fear ends with Billy leaving town, having pulled the wool over everyone's eyes because his terrible frame held. Except that couldn't have happened if Jim had survived. A dead serial killer suspect who can't defend himself is eminently frameable. A living man? Who has to be tried in a court of law for the worst series of brutal murders in American history - less easy to frame.

Try to imagine the court case in which Jim is tried for the dozen murders. There's no physical evidence other than his fingerprints on a knife that wasn't used in any murders, and a second (bloody) knife found in his office, without his fingerprints on it. Jim also could have offered his alibi for at least one of the murders - after all, how could he have not been visible to anyone at all over the course of seven consecutive nights? They didn't even have the mask or suit, because Billy took them with him when he left town:

This is kind of a huge problem, actually - the end of the movie takes place in near-real time (thus suggesting that Stacey essentially lived next door to the murder house!), and Stacey last sees the killer less than two minutes before Carpenter walks in, not wearing the costume. So where did it go? If Carpenter ditched it, he didn't have long , so it couldn't have been more than fifty yards from the house, if that. We know Billy stashed the clothes and picked them up later, but that argument couldn't have worked at trial. After all, Jim was in the hospital with a hole in his chest. So what do the cops think happened to the killer's suit?

Also, Billy took some files with him, although who the hell knows what those were.

Then there's the question of Jim's affirmative defense: Billy did it, and was framing him. This wouldn't actually be that hard to prove, given that it's what actually happened. Also Billy didn't have an alibi for any of the murders - in point of fact, the one night out of seven in which a murder didn't occur is the night when Billy was with Stacey. So that's plenty of room for reasonable doubt, even without addressing all of the evidence linking Billy to the actual crimes. Hey, speaking of which-

3 - You'd Have to Ignore All the McKinley DNA Evidence. And That Would Be Just Nutty.

While scuffling with the killer before being stabbed to (now near-)death, Jake stabbed his attacker in the leg.

So that's a knife with the killer's blood all over it. And as for Billy, he has a matching wound:

Profoundly not having a leg wound or matching DNA to the sample? Jim Carpenter! So I guess this couldn't have happened either.

4 - The 25th President of the United States Is No Longer William McKinley

Old Man Carter only ever shared scenes with Sheriff Roberts in Harvest of Fear, and in each one he dropped hints that he knew the true identity of the killer. Just before he's killed he telephones the Sheriff to ask who the 25th president of the United States was. The sheriff doesn't know, and doesn't bother asking anyone.

Then, at the end of the film, the current sheriff's final exchange is with the former sheriff, who tells him that William McKinley is the answer to the 'riddle'. The Sheriff thinks about this long and hard - could Billy have been the killer all along? Perhaps!

The fact that this information never comes up in Path of Evil suggests that this phone call - and perhaps all of the sheriff's conversations with Carter - now never happened.

5 - Mystery Solved!

In addition to Jake being a cheating, violent, short-tempered scumbag in Harvest of Fear, Stacey had an extra reason for breaking up with him. She held him (at least partially) responsible for the death of her brother, who mysteriously disappeared one night while out parking with his girlfriend, who was also Jake's sister.

Whether or not it was fair to blame him for what might have been an accident (one of the bodies was never discovered, so it was technically still unsolved), Stacey had plenty of hard feelings for Jake, and was resolute in her belief that they would never get back together - even before she started seeing Billy.

All that backstory and complex characterization? Gone! It seems the solution to what happened to the dead couple is that, according to Path of Evil, they now never existed. Which is cleaner than leaving it hanging, and easier, I suppose, than actually having to write a solution.

Although, with a nearly two-hour running time, you'd think the filmmakers could have found an opportunity somewhere.

6 - Billy's Feet? No Longer Itchy.

Ad you'll doubtless recall from the events of Harvest of Fear (or possibly my synopsis thereof), Billy's motive for committing all the recent murders was nebulous at best, incomprehensible at worst. As far as I was able to tell, Billy was, at the behest of his father, training in the exact same fashion that the elder McKinley had. He was doing his coroner internship in the same small town, killing the same number of people, and then ditching the burg to go work with his father, who has some kind of a medical practice in the big city. Also, given what we learn at the end of the film, he probably kills people there as well.

The film even ends with him skipping town with Stacey after the dust settles. Just as his father had done twenty years earlier. Sans Stacey, of course.

Not any more, though. For the plot of Path of Evil to occur, it requires Billy to stick around Devil's Lake for no particular reason, acting as the town's full-time medical examiner. Which the town apparently has. Seriously, this is a town of a thousand people, tops. There are three police officers in total. The sheriff's station closes at 5 and switches over to an answering machine. How on earth could they require, let alone afford, a full-time medical examiner? Other than the brutal massacres that periodically break out, I'd be surprised if two people a year died while not in a hospital (the circumstance under which you need a medical examiner).

So why does Billy hang around town, filling in for the position vacated by the jailed Doctor Carpenter? That's right, so the plot of the movie can happen!

Speaking of which, let's get to the actual plot of Path of Evil, and just what a confusing disaster the movie is! Which will all be covered next time, though, because this article is already long and art-intensive enough.

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